Branding is generally associated with consumer packaged goods. These companies call their product offerings, brands. Brand management originated in a consumer packaged goods company, Procter& Gamble, now led by AG Lafely. I was a Brand Manager on several brands including Tide with P&G. Most of these type of companies really embrace the concept of branding and spend a lot of effort and money to establish and keep their brands fresh and focused in consumers’ minds.
B2B companies generally don’t support branding to the same extent. Their product offerings are called products. Perhaps they don’t support the branding concept because their offerings have generally been presented directly to buyers by sales people and not via advertising or shelf position. Yet, there are logos on pens, coffee cups, calculators, USB memory sticks and assorted stuff from various companies. What is the purpose of all this stuff? Proponents will argue that it builds brand by getting the business's name in the office of potential influencers and purchasers, where it will stay top of mind. But then, their materials, website, sales aids and more are all very differentiated and no clear message is delivered. If the name does stay in the customer’s mind, it is out of focus. Tom Peters will tell you that over and over.
Does branding even matter at B2B companies? Or is branding a waste of time and budget compared to "hard ROI" activities that can be proven to drive revenue? Some experts argue that branding plays no role in B2B marketing. Their arguments typically include:
* B2B buyers are rational decision makers (or a committee of rational decision makers) who are not swayed by emotional factors such as brands.
* B2B purchases are all about the relationship between the individual sales rep and the buyer; if the B2B brand means anything, it is created by the sales rep.
* B2B products do not really promote the product’s benefits. Those are a given. Price is the only thing that matters.
* B2B products are too complex to reduce to a tagline or ad.
* B2B companies sell to narrow audiences, so advertising to create a brand does not make sense.
While some of this is true, it is also misguided. I have led businesses in both consumer packaged goods and B2B and know from personal experience the value of establishing strong brands in both.
Here is why.
· If you sell on a cost basis, you will always be negotiating and competition’s price cuts are just as good as yours.
· You are ignoring the product development investments you have made and are not getting the value from them.
· You are essentially telling your customers that everyone is equal and that only the sales inducements matter. Can that lead to kickbacks and bribes of some sort? Yes!
· You have to over-invest in your sales force to do the proper job on the customers.
· You are reliant on your sales people alone. Given the transition from company to company of employees these days that puts your business at risk. And you are paying to do it!
On the other hand here are some of the benefits I have found of branding for B2B companies.
· Branding ties together all of the activities of your company and provides focus.
Branding will provide clarity to the decision process for the customer. Less time is needed to close the sale of an offering.
· Research shows that it leads to a greater willingness to try a product or service by customers.
· The clear focus enables you to “transfer” the goodwill from one product to another.
· Branding generates higher barriers to entry for competition.
There is a willingness to award a larger share of purchase requirement by customers.
· It makes products less sensitive in regard to price increases.
· It can insulate the business from movement of sales people.
· It has been proven that branded products carry higher margins. HIGHER margins.
Here are three examples of companies doing B2B branding.
· IBM successfully created “eServices” to overcome the confusion its alpha numeric naming caused and was wasting millions of dollars. It took the company to market leadership in that area.
· Ingersoll-Rand re-branded itself as “IR” to leverage the IR master brand strategy across all of its divisions. It signaled that it was a diversified company comprised of industrial brands. More success.
· Intel uses branding not only for B2B but also for consumers to drive higher margins than competitor AMD.
It is not just large companies that are using B2B branding. Branding for all B2B companies is becoming even more important with the increase in sale via the internet. The impact of the personal touch of the salesperson is being reduced. More and more B2B companies are looking to marketing people with consumer goods experience to add to their selling arsenal. Smart move.
Branding doesn’t have to be expensive with multi-million dollar ads and campaigns. But it does have to be done right to generate an ROI that makes your investment successful.
If you lead a B2B company are you actively engaged in branding both your products and your company? If not why not?
Let us know how we can help. We have the B2B experience, the consumer packaged goods experience and the branding expertise. We can accelerate your business progress.
Maver Management Group